Use and abuse of the student voice? Exploring leaders’ responsibilities

….all of our human capital is employed on a retained contract basis, subject to regular stakeholder review of meeting crucial performance indicators to satisfy your happiness and employability prospects. If you do not like the staff, NLU does not retain them. It is that simple.

(Carl P. Da Foo, Chief Executive, New Liberalia University, 2020* cited by Jones-Devitt and Samiei, 2011).

Has this dystopian future arrived already?

Is the traditional trust between lecturers and students being compromised by expected processes of evaluation, in which managers appraise lecturers who assess students who then evaluate their lecturers? Our research initiative considers whether we should use ‘student voice’ more constructively rather than as a tool of performance management.

We need colleagues to help us investigate challenges faced by academics when developing education in the current evaluation-focused HE context. We will create case studies from your experiences to develop sector-wide resources for leadership development. These materials will be showcased at a national workshop to be held in Sheffield, making best use of the student voice in supporting teaching excellence.

We seek involvement from academics with both positive and negative experience of how student voice is used, or misused. Participation will grow by using a snowballing approach, i.e. identifying respondents who then refer researchers on to other potential respondents until enough evidence is gathered to construct each case study. These stories will be fictionalised to protect all participants and used to produce challenging scenarios for leadership development across all disciplines.

If you would like to participate, you can access the survey between 22nd June and 6th July 2017 here:


Jill LeBihan and Stella Jones-Devitt are leading this research within the Directorate of Student Engagement, Evaluation and Research. As academics and respective Heads’ of Student Engagement and Student Research, we live in the uncomfortable, contested space between lecturers, students, senior leaders and evaluative methodologies. If you are interested in working with us on this project, please contact us at

The research project is sponsored by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.



Jones-Devitt, S. and Samiei, C. (2011) From Accrington Stanley to Academia? The use of league tables and student surveys to determine ‘quality’ in Higher Education. Chapter in M. Molesworth, L. Nixon and R. Scullion (Eds.) The Marketisation of Higher Education: The Student as Consumer, Oxford: Routledge.

*The above quote is based on a fictionalised story in which all names, characters, and incidents portrayed are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased) and / or higher education institutions is intended or should be inferred.